Lewinsky lawyer's field is medical malpractice A friend of her father's, he once defended Liberace's doctor

January 25, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES -- William H. Ginsburg's specialty is medical malpractice, not criminal defense, and he became Monica Lewinsky's lawyer because of old family friendship, not professional expertise. But he is no stranger to high-profile cases and tense depositions.

"People who feel obliged to share everything they know in answer to a question really are poor witnesses," Ginsburg wrote in a 1990 article, "Preparing Depositions," for a legal publication called For the Defense.

"A technique sometimes used by plaintiffs' lawyers to attempt to prod a witness to volunteer information is the 'pregnant pause,' " Ginsburg wrote. "The deposing counsel asks a question, the witness responds, and then counsel simply stares at the witness in silence, waiting for some further response.

"Periods of silence are uncomfortable to the average person engaged in conversation," the lawyer added, "but the urge to speak must be coaxed out of your witness; instruct them that when they have completed their answer, they should not speak again until another question is asked."

The challenge for Ginsburg at the moment is that Lewinsky has already said so much: in hours of tape-recorded conversations with her friend Linda R. Tripp, in which she claimed to have had a sexual affair with President Clinton, and then in a sworn affidavit, in which she denied having had one. And the bow-tied lawyer with the trim beard and sober manner must now help her decide what to say next -- in a criminal investigation in which the stakes are higher and more complicated than in a civil lawsuit.

Ginsburg, 54, is a longtime friend of Lewinsky's father, Dr. Bernard Lewinsky, an oncologist in Brentwood, Calif. He joined the case after a marathon interrogation of Lewinsky by investigators from Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office at a hotel outside Washington on Jan. 16 and has since been a fixture on television news broadcasts. Ginsburg did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.

In public statements, he has struck a note of wounded dignity on Lewinsky's behalf, complaining that Starr's assistants questioned her at length without a lawyer and declaring when word of the allegations broke last week:

"If the president of the United States did this -- and I'm not saying that he did -- with this young lady, I think he's a misogynist. If he didn't, then I think Ken Starr and his crew have ravaged the life of a youngster."

Ginsburg has been in the thick of sensitive cases before, albeit not on this scale. In 1990, he represented Dr. Michael Mellman, a Los Angeles specialist in internal medicine who had treated the Loyola Marymount basketball player Hank Gathers and certified him as fit for play before Gathers collapsed and died of a heart disorder during a game.

In 1993, he represented an alternative birthing clinic in Glendale, Calif., that was accused of practicing medicine without a license after one infant died and another suffered severe brain damage.

In 1987, he represented Liberace's doctor, who had been accused of deliberately obscuring the cause of the entertainer's death by listing heart failure when tests had shown that Liberace had the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Ginsburg was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1964, receiving his law degree from the University of Southern California three years later. He is now a partner in the firm of Ginsburg, Stephan, Oringher and Richman in Los Angeles.

"The best way to prepare a witness for deposition is to tactfully explain the 'KISS' principle," Ginsburg said in his article. "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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